A debut historical novel peopled by Dante and other Italian Renaissance figures, along with reimagined Montagues and Capulets.
In September 1314, Padua is at war with Verona, which is flourishing under the rule of wily Francesco “Cangrande” della Scala. Although Cangrande is technically the overlord of several cities including Padua, the latter seeks to regain control of Vicenza, now governed by Cangrande’s brother-in-law and thus allied with Verona. To achieve their aims, the Paduan lord Giacomo “Il Grande” da Carrara and his nephew Marsilio join forces with Count Vinciguerra of San Bonifacio, a nobleman banished from Verona and enemy of Cangrande’s family. As the Carraras and the Count attack a Veronese suburb, Cangrande hosts a wedding party for his nephew and welcomes exiled Florentine poet Dante Alaghieri [sic] and his two sons. Elder son Pietro, the novel’s de facto protagonist, gets swept up in Cangrande’s subsequent routing of Padua. Warming to the excitement of battle, as well as the companionship of young aristocrat Romeo Mariotto Montecchio and newly titled Antonio “Antony” Capecelatro, Pietro saves Cangrande’s life and captures Marsilio. Pietro is knighted for his bravery, but he also sustains an injury and observes tensions brewing between his friends over Marsilio’s cousin Gianozza. Betrothed to Antony but enamored of Mariotto, Gianozza reignites the feud between the Montecchi and the Capelletti. (Shakespeare anglicized both families’ names for Romeo and Juliet.) After Mariotto and Gianozza elope, a duel between unexpected principals erupts and Pietro must depart Verona, leaving his newly arrived sister Antonia in charge of their father as he pens Purgatorio. Pietro has been enlisted to find the man who repeatedly attempts to abduct little Cesco, Cangrande’s illegitimate son. Since Cesco is believed to be the fabled savior of Italy, much depends on Pietro when the kidnapper succeeds at last, but the machinations of court may be harder to stomach than anything conceived by adversaries.
Intricate plotting, well-staged scenes and colorful descriptions enhance head-spinning but lively entertainment.